I am writing to you with my wish list for this Christmas. If possible I would like a Grifter and a Subbuteo set. If you run out of those, Kerplunk or Buckaroo will do fine. A football yearbook would be good, Shoot or Scoop, please. I enjoyed the Broons last year and you always seem to have plenty of copies of those since you pick them up in Dundee, so the new Oor Wullie annual would be great. I always like to know what Wullie, Fat Boab, Soapy Soutar and Jeemy have been up to over the last couple of years – they never seem to change much, do they? Anyway, getting back to the point because I don’t know if you read Oor Wullie, I hope all is well in Lapland and that the reindeer and elves are all geared up for the Christmas rush. I will leave a beer out for you and a few carrots for Rudolf and his pals. The chimney sweep was round the other week after the lum went up so you shouldn’t have any problems getting down it this year.
Ice cream and jelly didn’t compensate for the pressure of having to pick a girl for country dancing. I was quite quick off the mark. Standing around to make a point of not wanting to appear too keen was not the best policy. Might as well get myself a respectable dancing partner. I was heading for C. Mapp. She was easy to read and to get to know. But Sandy J. crossed my path and we arrived at the same time. When we got there we had to ask, ‘May I have the pleasure of the next dance’. I got the words out first although it sounded something like “mayieplesheoenesdans”. C. Mapp looked at the two hands in front of her face, hummed a bit and chose Sandy’s. His white Colgate smile and chatty manner were already making him a favourite with the girls. I wasn’t laughing. This delay had cost me time and when I looked around again there were only about five of the twenty girls left. None were beauties. Aileen was still there. We got on quite well so I picked her. It could have been a lot worse actually. She was a bit on the chubby side, which was why she hadn’t been picked, but she had warm red hair.
The first dance was a called Strip the Willow. The boys called it Strip the Widow when there were no teachers around . It was kind of like the Grand Old Duke of York, which we also did. Mr Richie and Bren Gun demonstrated the next dance; the Dashing White Sergeant. It was new for us this year but older boys like Ally Mac referred to it as the Slashing Shite Sergent. Bren Gun loved the precision involved in these steps and Richie tried to look as if he was enjoying himself too.
The teachers told us we’d better get used to this type of dancing as we’d be doing a lot more of it when we got to Breogan High. I wasn’t looking forward to that. Especially after I heard from Ally that his big brother was belted for not choosing a girl quickly enough. Afterwards, we danced to Heart of Glass by Blondie, which was pretty easy. I liked Debbie Harry and wouldn’t have minded doing the Strip with her.
Christmas parties were tiring. A few days later it was the do at Dad’s work. I had to get spruced up as if I was going up the town on a Saturday morning: hair brushed, purple shirt, brown tie tucked into the green snake belt around gray flannels.
I played games like pass the parcel and musical chairs with kids from other schools who I was never likely to see again. At least I got a good present; an Action Man with a bionic arm. More ice cream and jelly followed and socialising with strangers was over for another year.
I was happy to get home and settle down for the big day. The TV programmes were full of snow even though there wasn’t any outside. Magic stars shot across the screen. Cinzano adverts with Leonard Rossiter. Drinks spilled. “Is that the time? I really must be going.” It was all becoming a familiar part of Christmas. I already knew The Wizard of Oz inside out. There was a Breogan Primary version with Aileen as Dorothy, Martin B. as the Scarecrow, Sandy J. as the Cowardly Lion (getting most of the laughs) and Willie D. as the Tin Man.
It was difficult to sleep on Xmas eve, the only day of the year when I wanted to go to bed at seven o’clock. I finally nodded off but Dad came home late from Blackie’s with beery breath and woke me up to tell me something. Maybe a joke. But he had forgotten half of it and kept repeating himself.
I left the carrot out for Rudolf and co. Some Santas got milk but ours preferred beer. The presents had arrived from the Avon Lady; perfume for Mam and aftershave for Dad. It had to be Brut 33 on the 25th. They paid for their own presents as my pocket money didn’t stretch that far.
Dad filmed me coming down the stairs on Christmas morning, desperate for a fight with the wrapping paper. Gran walked around picking up the scattered litter. Adults ran here and there, preparing dinner in the kitchen, while trying not to step on each other’s toes. Hot broth followed by turkey with oatmeal stuffing, roast tatties and brussel sprouts. Yuk! Clooty dumpling or plum pudding. It was basically the same thing but the name for it depended upon whether you were from east or west of Breogan.
On Boxing Day, Gran tripped over the Subbuteo Pitch, ending the season for my striking partnership. Their bases were broken. She was laid up on the settee but fortunately her ankle was only sprained and a little swollen. I popped out to see my mates in the evening to compare presents. I thought I’d done alright until I saw what Willie D. had got: a new bike, Mousetrap, Spirograph, Crossfire, Striker, a Bionic Man, Hungry Hippos, Connect Four and loads of Star Wars shit that I didn’t know anything about.
The rest of the holiday was an anti-climax. It was depressing to think that those weeks sprinkled with magic dust were almost a year away again. New year was nothing special without the drink. Tipsy relatives dancing to the Crystal Chandeliers. Maybe a sip or two of froth from the top of Dad’s glass of Sweetheart Stout or Granda’s Charger Lager. Cocktail sticks. Pickled onions. Cubes of cheddar. Peanuts, including the new dry roasted ones that Dad liked a lot. Twiglets. Embassy World Darts on the goggle box. Obese competitors like Leighton Rees, Jocky Wilson and Big Cliff Lazarenko, drank and smoked their way through matches. They carried almost as much weight as wrestlers like Giant Haystacks or Big Daddy. Being fat was no barrier to becoming a sports star of sorts in seventies’ Britain.
From the novel Countries of the World ©Steven Porter/Breogan Books 2011
Available in paperback and only £1.86 on Kindle.